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Page last updated at 08:22 GMT, Saturday, 21 March 2009

N Korea confirms reporters held

Euna Lee (L) and Laura Ling - AP file photo
The pair were reporting on North Korean refugees in China

North Korea has confirmed the arrest of two female US journalists, saying they were detained for illegally entering North Korean territory.

The official Central News Agency said the case of the two women, arrested on Tuesday near the China-North Korea border, was under investigation.

The US had earlier expressed "concern" over the fate of the two women.

The news came after the North restored a cross-border military hotline with South Korea severed earlier this month.

The North also indicated it will reopen a border crossing which links the South with a joint Korean industrial zone, just inside the North.

The reporters arrested on Tuesday have been named in news reports as Laura Ling, a Chinese-American, and Euna Lee, a Korean-American.

Both reportedly work for the California-based online media outlet Current TV.

A Chinese interpreter accompanying the two journalists was also arrested.

Chun Ki-won, a Christian clergyman in Seoul who helped arrange the journalists' trip, has said they went to the area to report on North Korean refugees in north-eastern China.

There have been conflicting reports about where the women were detained. South Korean reports have suggested they were on Chinese territory.

But North Korea's official Central News Agency said the journalists were detained on Tuesday "while illegally intruding into the territory of the DPRK [North Korea]".

"A competent organ is now investigating the case," it added.

Industrial complex

The now restored military hotline between the two Koreas is intended as a means of direct communication at a time of high tension.

It is used to co-ordinate the movement of goods and people through the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone, and in its absence officials resorted to exchanging notes by hand.

Map

Pyongyang cut the hotline in protest at an annual US-South Korean military exercise, which it said it suspected were a prelude to an invasion.

On Saturday, South Korean Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-jo said that Pyongyang had also informed Seoul it would reopen cross-border traffic to and from an industrial complex in the North Korean border town of Kaesong.

The joint Korean venture is a key source of hard currency for the communist state.

The border between the two Koreas has been intermittently closed since the communication lines were cut on 9 March - when the US-South Korea drill began - stranding South Korea workers at a shared industrial estate and badly affecting businesses there.

The North's move came just hours after Beijing urged North Korea to restart talks on its nuclear programme.

Missile worries

The six-party talks, which also include South Korea, the US, Japan, and Russia, aim to offer aid to Pyongyang in return for the North ending its controversial nuclear activities.

But negotiations have been deadlocked for months because of a dispute with the US over how to verify the North's full range of past nuclear activities.

The situation has been further enflamed by the North's announcement that it plans to test-fire a rocket early next month.

China has voiced its concern over the growing tensions on the Korean peninsula over North Korea's planned rocket launch.

The North insists it is preparing to send up a communications satellite - and that any attempt to shoot it down would result in war.

The US, Japan and South Korea have all expressed concerns that the North is actually planning to test-fire a long-range missile.

North Korea is banned from firing either device under a UN Security Council resolution prohibiting it from ballistic activity.

Tensions have been high between North and South Korea since the South's conservative President Lee Myung-Bak scrapped his predecessors' policy of offering virtually unconditional aid to Pyongyang.

North and South Korea technically remain in a state of war since their 1950-53 conflict ended in a ceasefire, not a peace treaty.

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